Inspiration for 2009: Lessons from elBulli

Reading in 2009 started off wonderfully for me with a surprise book

A Day at elBulli: An insight into the ideas, methods and creativity of Ferran Adria

It’s a magnificent book (527 pages, full of beautiful pictures) about what happens inside elBulli in one day.

elBulli is supposed to be the world’s most famous restaurant. Owned by Ferran Adria and Juli Soler, they have had an amazing run for the last two decades. The restaurant is open only from April to September. They serve only 8,000 people in a season. But the number of reservation requests they get: 2 Million. There is no waiting list as it would take years to get through the waiting list.

This book is a brilliant introduction to this fascinating place and the people behind them. It is an inspiring story for ANYONE and EVERYONE – not just the people in the restaurant business. As a starter, please watch this 10-minute video about elBulli (from YouTube)

So I have compiled a few notes from elBulli to serve as an inspiration as you start the new year.

1. “You don’t have problems if new ones arrive every minute”

Ferran is so busy setting himself challenges that he does not have the time to stop and see them as problematic. In fact, solving them is essential to helping him keep an active and creative mind. Seen this way, his problems are not problems at all.

2. “Ambition without patience is a dangerous thing”

Forcing things gets you nowhere and patience is essential. This is the attitude elBulli has tried hard to adopt over the last twenty years.There is a painstaking process of trial and error behind the development of every dish, and the creative process cannot be hurried.

3. “Ideas are easy – you just need to have some”

It is impossible to say where ideas come from but it helps to be curious all the time, and to keep trying.

4. “A concept is an idea that can open new doors”

A concept is the set of essential qualities that characterize a dish, not the recipe itself. One concept can lead to many different elaborations and new dishes.

5. “A creative person tries to do what they don’t know how to do”

6. “Being innovative is much harder today than it was ten years ago”

After many years of creative development, it becomes harder to push the boundaries, and now there are many more chefs striving to invent new techniques. This is why Ferran , Oriol and Albert continue their creative sessions until 19.30. They dedicate nine hours a day to creating.

7. You have to find the balance between what you want to do, what is possible and what the guests would like.

8. The Challenge: Maintaining the intense concentration needed to server 1,500 dishes over five hours  is as challenging as ever.

Creative methods of elBulli

1. Association: This consists of making lists or tables of ingredients, cooking methods, sauces and finished dishes as an aid to the chef who is trying to think new ways of cooking an existing ingredient, or new ways of putting ingredients together. The lists of association are built up over time, and those at elBulli are the product of many years of creating dishes. They can provide a starting point to which chefs will add their own imagination and knowledge.

2. inspiration: This requires a reference from any field – art, fashion, music, gastronomy, architecture, native – to form the starting point of a dish, which then emulates in some way the form or spirit of the original dish.

3. Adaptation: In its most basic form, adaptation means taking a dish that already exists, which could be an icon of classic French cuisine or a traditional spanish dish, and remaking it according to one’s own tastes, style of cooking or aesthetic vision.

4. Deconstruction: In deconstruction, every part of the original dish, including its form, is modified, whether in appearance, texture or all the above. Deconstruction depends even more on the guests knowledge of the original dish, as without a reference point the dish is a construction based on nothing. In order to work, the game being played by the chef needs the participation of the guest.

5. Minimalism: Difficult to define with a culinary context, minimalism as a creative method at elBulli has come to mean the method by which maximum “magic” or sensory appeal, can be created with minimum ingredients.

Although the context is a culinary business, there is a lot for all businesses and individuals to learn from elBulli.

Once again, have a fantastic year ahead!